I’m not sure I even have the evidence of last year’s holiday season properly stored away and here it is time to drag all that stuff out again! Well, the spiral notebook is coming out and my holiday lists begin. Over the last few months, my tidy table in the workplace has been piliing up with completed gift projects, books for avid reader friends, Post-It notes to remind me where the Post-It notes are stored, ingredients for holiday menus, piles of ‘gotta try this’ on Thanksgiving/Christmas, and a bouquet of artificial flowers. I do not care for artificial flowers but my cats are afraid of them so that is my cat repellant of of choice.
I do have most of my shopping done as I started the week after Christmas last year. I never see something and think, “Remember to get one of those for whoever,” but always purchase it at time of sighting because I will either forget to put in on the list . . . or lose the list!
My freezer is ready for holiday baking . . . mostly. Butter is expensive so I’ve been stockpiling it in the freezer since June along with chocolate chips and baking chocolate. I have way too much Christmas wrap so don’t NEED to buy any but probably will if it is a.) unique and different, b.) on sale or c.)both.
I just finished packing my Samaritan’s Purse Christmas Shoeboxes and ended up packing two more than planned . . .overpurchased as I can’t resist buying for little children since mine are all grown up.
Hopefully and happily looking forward to Thanksgiving, my favorite meal to prepare of the year. I’ve been doing it since I was twelve years old and look foreward to it every year especially if I have a crowd around the table. And, that gives me the opportunity to start another list. My Thanksgiving list turns into the plural as I need the shopping list, the prep list for timing the food preparation, and the timing list for the actual day as my husband and I have some differences of opinion on who gets the oven first.
Times do be a changing, however, when it comes to holiday meals as one of our guests is a vegetarian, one is a total vegan, and my husband doesn’t eat sugar or gluten. My family and guests, however, are not overall picky eaters and you will find the carnivores enjoying some of the vegan/vegetarian options, too.
Advent . . . a time of waiting and a time of preparing. If we gave sufficient time to the spiritual aspect as well as the holiday/baking/gift given perspective, one should now be with a sense of peace and excitement about what tomorrow will bring.
My husband decided to spend Christmas Eve (AFTER he helps with the housecleaning!), creating a Panettone with my daughter. They have been glued to the bread book all week reading and rereading the directions and lining up ingredients. The recipe calls for a ‘starter’. To those uninitiated in the ins and outs of breadmaking, there are times when a recipe calls for nurturing a mixture of water and yeast into a gentle rise which will be the leavening ingredient in the final outcome. My daughter is 28 years old but decided that the starter needed a name so they have been periodically checking on Hector. He is doing fine, by the way.
Earlier in the month, my daughter and I spent her day off from work icing cut out cookies and the four hours it took were amazingly fun as we talked about things, admired each other’s handiwork and overindulged in edible glitter and sparkles for the cookies.
We plan to attend Mass on Christmas Day and then my job will be preparing a beef roast along with two vegan dishes for my son who went vegan a couple of years ago. After that, presents and another set of memories until, God Willing, we make some more memories throughout 2019 culminating in another Christmas together.
My daughter and I finished off making the last of the Christmas cookies yesterday. We have been watching way too many baking shows so attempted, with a bit of success, to make some better than average versions of the experts’ cookies. We put on Christmas music and spent four hours noting that the first six or seven cookies we decorated were not all that great while one could see our expertise grow with the middle group. The last twenty or so ended up much simpler as we got tired of all the sticky frosting joy. Anyway, this batch along with the 15 other kinds I baked during the week will easily fill up our cookies gift plates for our friends.
HOWEVER, when I say I’m done, I’m talking about the ‘normal’ cookies. My younger son in adamantly vegan so I still have five cookie recipes to bake for his Christmas treats. I asked him once if his three roommates were vegan, too, and he said, “Only when I’m doing the cooking!” I guess that will be the same situation if they want one of his Christmas cookies!
My kitchen is beginning to smell a lot like Christmas but it was only a preliminary baking session for an event at my husband’s office. When I’m only doing small batches, I often try some new recipes. This morning, I tried a new one that might be a keeper for the future. They are called Gooey Butter Cookies but are not all that gooey but smelled really good. Very easy and adaptable recipe. The version I tried today:
Gooey Butter Cookies
1/2 cup softened butter
8 ounces of cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and a pinch of cinnamon
1 box of yellow cake mix
1/2 cup powdered sugar (for rolling the cookies in before baking)
Cream together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add in the egg, vanilla, zest and spices. Mix in the cake mix and refrigerate the dough until cold. It will still be sticky but somewhat easier to work with!
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. It’s a good idea to use parchment paper on your baking sheets.
If you have a cookie scoop, it would be handy but basically roll balls of dough into 1-1 1/2-inch. Roll in the powdered sugar. Place two inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.
Bake for 12-15 minutes but keep an eye on the cookies after around ten to determine how hot your often might run. Cookies should still be somewhat pale with golden edges. Let rest on the baking sheets a few minutes before putting them on the cooling racks.
After I finished these cookies, I realized it could end up being a real timesaver when I’m suddenly informed that someone in the family needs cookies for work! Also, what’s to stop the cookie creation at a yellow cake mix? I’m thinking chocolate, carrot, lemon . . . Adding some chopped nuts or chocolate chips might be an interesting addition . . . By the way, the gooey ones are the light ones in the middle of the picture with the patches of powdered sugar.
The clock is definitely ticking down to Christmas. It really seems to sneak up on a person the last week when you realize that you do NOT have another week to shop, you do NOT have another week to buy groceries, and you do NOT have some great Christmas cookies stocked away in the cupboards and freezer. There is also the concern for people who have to avoid gluten. It wasn’t stated in my marriage vows, but after thirty-plus years of marriage, I seem to have acquired a husband who is very sensitive to gluten.
Around Christmas time, Christmas cookies would make life sad for my husband until I discovered ‘flour’ blends that can turn out rather great cookies and still be safe for him to eat.
My latest discovery is Pamela’s All Purpose Flour, Gluten-Free Artisan Blend, Non-Dairy. It doesn’t work well for yeast-raised goodies but some people think it makes better cookies than wheat flour. It is pretty much cup to cup for measurements so you can use some of your old favorites still. I found the best deal on Amazon.com.
BetterBatter is a standby in my cupboard for making quick biscuits, egg noodles, tortillas and such. Their computer site has a lot of recipes to cover just about any need you have for baking during the holiday and throughout the year. Sometimes, the best deal is on Amazon and other times directly from BetterBatter.
King Arthur’s Flour is almost the same as Pamela’s and BetterBatter but, probably best for cookies and cakes. They, too, offer recipes for the asking and just surfing for a particular recipe on the internet with their name in the search will bring up a lot of recipes from individuals, too. Just make sure to read the ratings for hints to avoid disasters.
Before my husband had to omit gluten from his diet, my specialty was bread and most any yeast-raised recipe. Although I have managed to produce some reasonable outcomes, to date, nothing was exactly what I wanted. I just discovered Steve’s Gluten-Free Bread flour blend by Authentic Foods. The first baguette turned out amazingly well with a crust and a ‘bread interior’ that was springy and didn’t ‘melt’ down exposing it’s gluten-free origins. I purchased 25 pounds and bread baking is back in my schedule. It looks, acts, and tastes like the real deal.
Crispy Coconut Chews
My husband doesn’t like coconut but, for some reason, he likes these cookies! They are easy to make and a nice contrast to all the chocolate and spice cookies that show up at Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against chocolate and spice cookies but don’t mind chomping down on an extra coconut cookie in addition to the rest! Sometimes, I use bran flakes for the called-for crushed flake cereal in the ingredients. I’m always sneaking in extra vitamins and fiber even with treats.
½ cup butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup crushed flake cereal
1 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup coconut
½ cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream the butter and sugars until smooth and fluffy. Stir in egg, extract, and lemon zest. Add the flour, baking soda, and baking powder to the butter mixture. Add the oatmeal, cereal, coconut, and walnuts. Mix gently until well combined.
Drop dough by tablespoons onto greased baking sheet, keeping them about 2 inches apart to allow for spreading. Bake for approximately ten minutes or until cookies are lightly browned at the edges. Cool on wire racks. Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies depending on size.
Apple Oatmeal Bars
When Fall approaches, apples are in abundance. Nothing like a spicy apple and cinnamon concoction to put the scent of holidays into the air just a bit! This is a cookie-type bar cookie with a lot of taste and goes well as a snack or dressed up for dessert.
½ cup shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup rolled oats
2-3 green or tart apples, peeled and diced (about 2 cups total)
Juice and zest of one, small lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking pan (approximately 12x9x2-inches) with parchment paper or use vegetable oil spray.
Cream together the shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. In a small bowl, mix together the lemon juice, zest, vanilla extract, and the apples. Now stir in the rolled oats, apple mixture and nuts into the flour/butter mixture. Spread the batter in the prepared baking pan.
Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes. Cool in the pan on a cooling rack. Cut into desired-sized bars and either sprinkle with powdered sugar or drizzle with a lemon glaze. Goes well with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a generous portion of freshly-whipped cream.